The SR-71 (also known as the "Blackbird") was a record breaker in the areas of speed and altitude for almost all of its career, which lasted almost twenty-four years. The SR-71 was intended to act as a surveillance monitor for the United States, and it consistently was the best plane at the job. The SR-71's first flight was in 1964, when it took off, flew, and landed successfully. All of this was done very quickly- the SR-71's official top speed is Mach 3.5, or three and a half times the speed of sound. Its top altitude is listed as 85,000 feet. At this altitude the SR-71 has the ability to survey approximately 100,000 square miles of land in one hour. An R-71's flight from New York to Los Angeles would be completed in about the same amount of time.
The company that produced the SR-71 was Lockheed, a famous aircraft production organization. A very secretive party of engineers called "Skunk Works" were the major workers. This same group were also the ones who constructed the B-2, the F-22, the F-117 and the U-2.
Later on in 1990, the Cold War tensions had been loosened and the United States' budget was declining, so the SR-71 was put away. However, in 1995 some new SR-71s were issued and in 1997 the SR-71 was brought back into use. Blackbirds are still flying today.
During the Cold War, the U-2 plane was a very large part of the United States' espionage. It was first flown in 1955, and is still used today.
The U-2's wingspan is huge, one hundred and three feet to be exact. This is close to twice the size of the plane's length. The U-2 has an amazing fuel tank capacity as well. A flight from New York to Moscow could easily be made, and there would still be the possibility of going further without refilling. At the same time the U-2 can fly over thirteen miles over the earth, or 70,000 feet. The plane also was equipped with the world's highest resolution camera. It had been designed by Edward Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera.
Then, in 1960, a U-2 being flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down while cruising over the U.S.S.R. Eventually spy plane jobs like these were replaced with satellite missions and surveillance to reduce danger.
The Corona satellite was the first of it's kind. It was operated by the United States from 1959 to 1972. During this time, the Corona was sent on one hundred and forty-five flights and returned over 800,000 pictures of the earth, which were used for surveillance and mapping. These images displayed an average of 10 miles wide and 120 miles long. Objects as small as 2 metres squared could be seen. For the early part of the Corona's career, digital imaging was non-existent, so the photographs were sent to earth in a film capsule which was grabbed while still in the air by a C-119 Air Force plane. When digital photography was discovered, the photographs were simply beamed back down to earth. The Corona project was ended abruptly in the year nineteen seventy-two, when it was declassified. it has not been heard of much since.
In the year 1976, the Cray-1 supercomputer was issued. This computer was extremely fast and accurate. The Cray-1 could calculate 100 million arithmetic operations every second. This was a major breakthrough. Today, the Cray system could perform a maximum of 2.4 trillion calculations per second. There had been previous computers involved in spying and espionage, for example, the British Colossus, which was constructed in World War Two. The Colossus was created to try and break the Germans' Enigma code. The existence of the Colossus was not disclosed until 1970. A vital feature of the Cray-1 was it's liquid nitrogen cooling system (to prevent the high speed processors from overheating). The Cray-1 supercomputer costed $700,000.00.